The standoff between the Writer’s Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has long but been inevitable. Not due to the specific circumstances that make up the pragmatic foundation of this particular conundrum, but more because of the long-standing rift between the hard-working individuals that actually create films and those that market and distribute them. It’s the same, sad story and it’s been boiling in Hollywood for years.
Recently, I’ve been reading some of David Mamet’s Bambi Vs. Godzilla and, although the book was published earlier this year, it’s as if Mamet were discussing this very concern. It’s of little shock value to say that the writer is the most resented person in Hollywood. How many re-writes and pandering to producers and studio executives and A List actors must a writer go through before the final script is in order? How much of the original artistic vision has been dismantled in lieu of crispy one-hundred dollar bills?
It’s a pathetic reality that artistic merit has long since been brushed aside in favor of financial fruition. Yet this sad state of affairs has become the norm as audiences become more and more complacent with seasonal routines and mundane expectations. It’s as if the viewers have resigned themselves to mediocre plots and amateur scripts, as long as they see actors they know and over-the-top effects. Then again, I might be giving Joe Movie Goer more credit than he’s worth; but that’s an entirely different discussion.
What’s truly ironic, however, is that these same executives are pushing the budgets higher and higher for, as David Mamet rightly suggests, if the money is spent on the best actors, the best directors, the best effects, etc., then there’s all sorts of other places to place blame in the instance of a failed movie. The executives have risked nothing of their own and they get to keep their jobs (and their inflated salaries) because they’ve adequately spread the talent around, creating a wall of stability between them and a pink slip. And the tip of the iceberg is the higher the budget (to account for all these talented individuals), the more money the executives can fill their pockets with.
And we the people, we star-crazy psycho fanatics that we are, play into this game perfectly. And that’s really a shame. A few weeks ago, I was in Fort Worth at the Lone Star International Film Festival, attending a panel about the mumblecore movement. The discussion basically described the do-it-yourself mentality that’s currently flooding the festival circuit and beyond. I’ll note James M. Johnston who professed the idea that even so-called independent films (produced by “independent” film studios) still cost a great deal of money; whereas truly independent DIY films cost very little. And granted, the reason why these big budgeted films cost so much is to pay everyone–and pay everyone well. And I wholeheartedly agree that all creative individuals should be justly compensated for their work. But throwing money at something that’s inherently bad doesn’t seem like a good idea.
As movie-goers, we should band together and demand truly moving films with smart dialogue and intelligible plot-lines. And as filmmakers, we should worry less about our hierarchy in the industry–for that’s what really bolsters this rift–and just make really good films. I’m certainly hopeful that come Monday morning, some sort of compromise will be made between the WGA and the AMPTP. And I certainly favor the writers in this debate. But in my mind, the issue is moot: the writers should have been compensated anyway. There’s really no debate there. The real issue is creating quality films and programming, and until writers and crew members and artists buck up and really stand for what they believe in, the studios will continue to plow filmmaking, and all its glorious splendor, into the ground. But whose fault is that, really? Is it the studio execs whose sole purpose is to not lose their jobs as studio execs? Certainly not. It’s all of us who’ve created them and supported their agendas of blockbusters and stars and effects. It’s all of us audiences and filmmakers alike who’ve long since traded in our love of the art of film for something far less important and sincere. But, concerning us filmmakers, it’s something that keeps us all going, for better or for worse, I suppose. But then again, if it were merely about survival, there’s far easier ways than filmmaking.